Cops and call records. Policing and metadata privacy in South Africa Author: Murray Hunter
Published: 27 March 2020
Privacy laws often disregard the sensitivity of communication metadata – information about who a person communicates with, and how, where and when they do it. Yet this information often reveals as much or about that person, than the contents of the communication itself.
Certainly South Africa’s laws have disregarded metadata privacy. While the weaknesses in the main surveillance law, RICA, face growing criticism, most police investigations of people’s communications use a separate avenue: the ‘Section 205’ procedure, which allow the police to seize a person’s phone records or other communications metadata, with few safeguards or limits.
This research draws on interviews with current and former law enforcement officials, to assess how police use these ‘Section 205’ metadata requests, and to sketch out possible reform options that would increase privacy protections for communication metadata. While security officials have publicly painted reform proposals as being fatal to policing, these interviews show a surprising diversity of views within law enforcement structures, and map out some of the terrain for possible reforms.
This is a report by the Media Policy and Democracy Project, a joint
collaborative research project between the Department of Communication
Science at the University of South Africa (UNISA), and Department of
Journalism, Film and Television at the University of Johannesburg (UJ).